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Monday, May 11, 2009

Making Panir

I'm a little behind on the whole blogging thing, but have had some company and some deadlines, all of which ended well, so am trying to catch up now.

So, I went to a retreat in January and the first thing I learned there was how to make cheese. Cheese?! Yup, and it was excellent! Here's a little something from Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (page 131):

" . . . it takes less time to make a pound of mozarella than to bake a cobbler, but most people find the idea of making cheese at home to be preposterous. If the delivery guy happens to come to the door when I'm cutting and draining curd, I feel like a Wiccan.

"What kind of weirdo makes cheese?"

Well, uh, that'd be me.

Anyhow, inspired by the great mozarella and ricotta we made at the retreat and that quart of goat milk Rosemary (the cheese mistress) game me, I returned home ready to strike out on my own. However, a local scarcity of renet meant I had to make panir. Boy, that was a shame! Mmmmm, mmmm was it good!

Panir is made of milk and lemon juice. That's it. Well, you can put a little salt in it, but I just salted mine before I fried it lightly and it was great. I hear you can do anything with panir that you would do with tofu, and I recommend it, but then again I'm not crazy about tofu.

I was a little worried because I don't have a cheese thermometer, but it turns out that my electronic thermometer is perfect for cheesemaking because I can enter a target temperature and an alarm goes off when the milk reaches that temp. Just about takes the brainwork out of the process.

Anyhow, all the utensils and surfaces you use during the precess have to be super clean so you don't contaminate the end product. Shiny, eh?!

I got my recipe from It was easy to follow and there were loads of other recipes as well.

So, after the milk gets hot enough and stays there for a few minutes you add the lemon juice and stir gently. All of a sudden you have curds and whey instead of hot milk. It's cool. It's magical. It's alchemical!

Anyhow, I just strained the cheese in a collander lined with a clean flour-sack-weight dish towel then hung it over the bowl to drip a while.

Some time later I had a ball of cheese which I cubed and cooked in a simmer sauce (shown here--doesn't it look good?).

I also tried making my own saag panir--it was all right, but bland. It will be better next time now that I've finally unpacked my Madhur Jaffrey cookbook. (Thanks, Margaret--I'm still using it after--yikes--20 years!)

By the way, don't just let the whey run down the drain! I use it in breadmaking instead of water or milk, and when used as the liquid for cooking rice or potatoes it gives them a nice creamy mouth feel without fat. It also is supposed to be great for watering gardens if you can't get in to using for cooking.

As an aside, once I managed to get my hands on some (vegetarian) rennet in March I made mozarella and ricotta as well. The mozarella was amazing and the ricotta (made with the whey left from the mozarella process) was beyond words. I don't particularly care for ricotta, but this was like nothing I have ever tasted before. So good!

I used them together with some cottage cheese I made--yup, I'm a cheesemaking fanatic now--for a lasagne (noodles cooked in whey, too) and it was wonderful. Of course using the sauce my eldest made and a little homemade italian sausage helped, too.

I'll add photos of those processes once I repeat them. Just paid attention to the process the first time. And paying attention sure paid off!

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